Privacy as we know it is being re-defined on the Internet and in the courts as we speak. How we view privacy today versus ten years ago has changed greatly due to the Web 2.0 environment of user-generated content. How we will view it ten years from now will be different yet still. While freedom of expression at times appears to infringe on privacy, we consistently wade through the gray areas to appease both sides. Google has been at the epicenter of many of these battles based on the number of individuals it touches daily via search, videos and over 250+ other products they offer the public.
Three Google executives have been convicted of privacy violations for allowing a video of an autistic boy being abused to be posted online. An Italian court issued the three Google executives a suspended six-month sentence in a case that has been closely monitored for its implications regarding Internet freedom.
On February 24, Google spokesman Bill Echikson issued a statement that Google was going to appeal Judge Oscar Magi's decision in Milan which sentenced David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, Peter Fleishcher, its global privacy counselor and George Reyes, Google's former CFO.
“This verdict is a great disappointment. It attacks the very principles of freedom of expression on which Internet was built,” said Google spokesman Bill Echikson. The rest of his statement can viewed here.
The ground-breaking legal pronouncement followed the posting of the distasteful video in the “fun videos” section of Google Video in September 2006. It was taken down two months later, after receiving 5,500 online views, as a result of an official complaint by the charity ViviDown, which represents the interests of Down Syndrome individuals. The charity became involved because one of the handicapped boy’s tormentors made a joking reference to the organization in the video.
The outcome was welcomed by Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo. “This trial wasn’t about freedom of the Internet, as some people have said. Instead, for the first time in Italy, there has been a discussion of the serious question of the rights of the individual in today’s society,” Robledo told reporters. “The rights of a business enterprise cannot take precedence over the dignity of the individual.”
So readers, please weigh in on this debate. Can Google be held responsible for content when the whole intent of user-generated sites like Google Video and YouTube is to provide individuals the opportunity to post what they choose. While I think Google has crossed the line themselves on privacy issues in the past, such as the issue surrounding the recent launch of it new social network Buzz (see previous blog, "Google Buzz Superstar") - do you think the onus falls on the enterprise or the individual? If Google is at fault for not reviewing every entry onto to its Google Video site, aren't we taking steps backwards toward an antiquated Big Brother mentality?
Who's freedom is at stake here? The 'wisdom of crowds' or the privacy of the individual? Your feedback, thoughts and comments are appreciated.